The drowning and disappearing at the Mediterranean Sea continued as 13 people died and 40 people went missing within a few days. Search and rescue ships are still blocked in ports and none are operational in the dangerous central Mediterranean Sea. The monitoring aircraft Moonbird was finally released and assisted in a rescue operation off Lampedusa on Monday.

13 people died and a further 40 people remain missing in the Central Mediterranean between 20 and 26 October according to figures by IOM-Libya. Further, a boat capsized only a few miles south the Spanish coastal city Motril on 25 October. As the NGO hotline Alarm Phone reports, Spanish authorities had delayed recue after being informed about the boat in distress. Several people needed medical care and it remains unclear whether all passengers survived.

The incidents took place at a time when no search and rescue ship is present in the central Mediterranean Sea because the civil fleet remains blocked in European ports. On Friday 23 October, the NGO Sea-Watch appealed against the blockade of its rescue vessel Sea-Watch 4 that is ongoing since mid-September to the administrative court in Palermo. Sea-Watch Chairman Johannes Bayer commented this step: “We must not get used to rescue ships being illegally blocked and Europe letting people drown as a deterrent. Those who fight for human rights must do so at all levels. This is why we filed an appeal against the arbitrary blockade of Sea-Watch 4. We are not only morally right; our ships are safe and ready to rescue”. On 28 October, inspectors of the classification agency were on board the Sea Watch 4 and once more reassured that the ship is safe according to flag state and international regulations. But the blockade by Italian authorities continues. The organisation’s monitoring aircraft Moonbird was finally released by Italian authorities after being grounded for almost two months. During its first mission on Monday, the aircraft crew located a boat in distress carrying men, women and children without life jackets in Maltese SAR zone. One of the two engines had stopped working, making it impossible to maintain course. As confirmed by Alarm Phone, the 87 passengers were rescued by Italian coastguard and disembarked in Lampedusa.

104 people were intercepted at sea and returned by the so-called Libyan coast guard in the period of 20-26 October. IOM-Libya describes the situation of migrants stuck in Libya as “the worst we have seen in years”.

A man illegally detained in Malta for 144 days since his rescue at sea was released by court on 29 October. Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras pointed out that it is the seventh time this year that the court has had to deal with similar incidents and that it was a concern that people were being detained without a legal basis “in a democratic society based on the rule of law”. Many more remain in illegal detention.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.